Refugee’s Personal Success Changes Columbia’s Economy

Hope Howard

At 800 Vandiver Drive, there is a small, Asian grocery store called Shwe Market International Foods. In December of 2016, Cing Cing Hlamyo, a refugee from Myanmar, opened the store. Since arriving in Columbia, Missouri in 2009, a lot has changed in her life. She has learned to speak English, given birth to her second daughter and opened her own business. 

Barry Stoll, the executive director of City of Refugee, said Hlamyo has transitioned to become a successful resident of Columbia.

“Ching Ching is a women that came here with the clothes off of her back,” said Stoll. “She came from hardly surviving and she found a home here. Last December, after saving money, she opened up an Asian food market in Columbia. As her business grows, she will begin hiring people in Columbia.”

Stoll said he wants people to know that refugees like Hlamyo are doing a lot of work behind the scenes and if they weren’t here “would change our economic outlook.”

“In Columbia we don’t have places like my store,” said Hlamyo. “It is helpful for Americans. [People] can find food from anywhere in my store.”

Hlamyo said she enjoys being her own boss because she has more control of her life.

“I have [experienced] a lot of bad things in my life, but it has changed,” said Hlamyo. “Now, having my own business, I can see my kids. I think it is the best way for me. For example, today I was 15 minutes late to work and I won’t get in trouble.”

Living in Columbia, Hlamyo runs her own business and finds time to help other refugees, specifically in the African community, as a translator.

“You can look at someone who doesn’t speak English and [who] has a different culture and think, ‘Oh, here is another person who wants a free handout from America,’” said Stoll. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”